ord2.jpgI promised to review this book on my blog in exchange for a free copy, so let me begin by saying thanks to the author and publisher for that opportunity. I’m not enthusiastic about Off-Road Disciplines (I don’t think I would have read it had I come across it in a bookstore), but I appreciate what I perceive to be the motivation of its author, which is his love for the Body of Christ and those who minister in it. While I share that love, I think this book simply doesn’t fulfill its promise. “Missional leaders,” Dr. Creps writes in the introduction, “see the world through the eyes of Jesus.” The rest of the book, however, seems aimed mostly at helping leaders to see Jesus through the eyes of the world. So while not wanting to be simply pragmatic, Off-Road Disciplines ends up being ultimately pragmatic, seemingly built on three faulty assumptions:

The first is: Relevance is king. The “truth” Creps is most concerned about is the cultural environment of the Church. There is a lot here about what we can do to understand and fit into what he calls our “tiempos mixtos” or mixed times. There is very little about how the message of the gospel might address and challenge contemporary culture. For example, in his chapter on Reverse Mentoring, Dr. Creps notes that there is plenty of opportunity for older folks to learn from younger folks, especially when it comes to utilizing the technological gadgets of our day. Nothing wrong with that; the scripture calls the Church to a relational strategy of ministry. But we also need to take a prophetic stance—what Vanhoozer calls a disputational stance—against the ills of human culture. So while I get to know young people who are technologized, I’m also concerned about how technology may be dehumanizing them in the way it allows them to escape the sort of face-to-face interaction that real discipleship requires or in the way it facilitates the development of virtual personalities while ignoring the development of character.

The Christian message unavoidably criticizes human beings and the societies we form. If we ignore that reality in order to attract people to Christianity, we must inevitably either spring the trap, at which point people would justifiably feel misled, or continue to let people believe in an uncritical gospel, which is no gospel at all. Dr. Creps occasionally gives hints that he is aware of this problem. The chapter on “Reflection” is a good example, but even there, theological reflection is ultimately aimed at ministry effectiveness rather than personal knowledge of God in Christ and the resulting worship.

This leads me to the second bad assumption: The mission is being “missional.” After reading through Off-Road Disciplines, I find it troubling that I can’t remember a clear statement of what the mission of the Church or of the Christian is, even though this book is about being missional. The problem here is that the mission of the Church is quite particular and it has particular propositional content. The Christian and the Church are called to embody a particular message. The ultimate purpose of that message is not the redemption of people, but the redemption of people into proper worship of the true God. John Piper makes this point most excellently, by the way, in his book on mission called Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions. Our problem is not that we are inadequate in our attention to and understanding of human cultures so much as it is that we are inadequate in our attention to, understanding of, and appreciation for God himself as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ himself.

One might respond that these things are acknowledged as given, and simply not within the scope of Off-Road Disciplines. This implies what seems to me to be a third bad assumption: Ordinary Christians in America have been well taught the content of their faith. Perhaps Dr. Creps knows better, but my own observation is that in spite of unprecedented opportunity, our generation is as theologically illiterate as any in history. This is the result of the pragmatic orientation of 20th century evangelicalism, an orientation which this book does little to correct. This is the problem I have with most of the “emergent” stuff I’ve read. It is critical of the pragmatic approaches of the Seeker Sensitive movement, or of the Church-growth movement before that, but fails to recognize that it is simply the latest version of the pragmatic Church.

Finally, I have to say that there’s nothing particularly “off-road” about Off-Road Disciplines. All of these things seem to me to be better described as ordinary tactics of biblical disciple-making. The principal advice—not the only advice—in this book is: spend some time getting to know people you plan to communicate with. That’s good advice, but there’s nothing radical about it. I found that as I read this book, I kept hoping for the fresh insight the title seems to promise. I’m sorry to say that hope remains unsatisfied.